News & Publications

The Power of Immunotherapy for Gynecologic Cancers

September 25, 2013 | Hannah Appelbaum

With only a few days left of Gynecologic Cancer Awareness month, we can’t think of a more appropriate time to share some of what we know about these cancers that originate in the female reproductive organs—and the CRI scientists who are doing their part to change the course of the fight against them. The five main types of gynecologic cancers include: uterine, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and ovarian. Of all these cancers, ovarian is one of the major types of cancer for which powerful, immune-based cancer treatments are now in development.

Ovarian cancer accounts for 5% of cancer deaths among women and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. An estimated 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer are expected in the U.S. in 2013. Though incidence rates of ovarian cancer decreased by 0.9% per year between 2005-2009, an estimated 14,030 deaths are still expected in 2013.

CRI researcher Dr. Kunle Odunsi is a Nigerian-born physician scientist now based at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY. He has made major contributions to monitoring patients’ immune responses during vaccine therapy and arriving at accurate prognoses. He’s published more than 80 scientific papers on the subject. Most recently, Dr. Odunsi and colleagues have identified a number of potential biomarkers in ovarian cancer. The identified proteins appear to play a critical role in ovarian cancer progression and may well serve as a predictive marker for early detection of the disease. Many ovarian-cancer patients in Dr. Odunsi’s CRI/Ludwig CVC Trials Network clinical trials show encouraging results, including significant delays in time to disease recurrence and, in some cases, remission.

In April, 2013, Dr. Lana E. Kandalaft and team at the University of Pennsylvania presented the results from a study of a novel immunotherapy and combination therapy treatment for ovarian cancer using patients’ own tumors to stimulate an immune response. Results illustrated positive responses in 66% of women with advanced stage ovarian cancer, including 20 patients who had no obvious disease at the end of treatment, and one who is still in complete remission nearly four years later. When researchers added a second step of T cell reprogramming for patients with residual disease, clinical benefit was seen in about 75% of patients, said Dr. Kandalaft.

Scientists like Drs. Odunsi and Kandalaft are bridging the divide between the laboratory and the clinic, translating basic discoveries into new therapies—and new hope—for cancer patients.

To learn more about current immunotherapy treatment options for women with gynecologic cancers, and how close we are to making these treatments available to more patients, watch Dr. Odunsi’s webinar from June 4th, 2013.

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